Hair buzzed close to his scalp, the only curl left is in his lip. He quietly stares at the two egg yolks looking up at him. With his one working arm and the slow determination of a ditch digger, he shovels those eggs bit by bit into his mouth. I know he’s only eating because we are watching him.
The only place skin doesn’t seem to sag over bones are his fingers. Diligently they lift the peel from the Clementine and place it on the paper towel . Sweet citrus fills the air. I notice the coppery hue of his face and I wonder if it’s from the radiation or if it’s the sunlight reflecting from the orange. “Clementines are really good. Help yourself.” I decline, but I watch as he savors each section he pops into his mouth.
“You’re coming back in two weeks, right?”
“Yes. Would you like if we bring steaks to cook out.”
“If you want, sounds good.”
Later he calls me and says for us to meet at my mom and dad’s house. He tells me he’s invited several others. I have a feeling he thinks it will be his last visit to our parent’s house.
He wants to make his special steak sauce. He says he needs rice vinegar and garlic. Mom only has apple cider vinegar and insists she has garlic which I find has petrified. He makes his wife take him to the store for the items. My guess is he needs a breather from the attention. I already know the little country store doesn’t carry the items, but he insists on going and comes back without them.
He demands fresh ground pepper. I grind about a tablespoon.
“No, keep going. It takes a lot.”
I end up grinding about a quarter of a cup, and he only uses about a tablespoon. He makes do with the ingredients we have on hand but insists on preparing it himself. I want to mix it for him, but I know I must let him do this one thing. He then asks me to take peppers and onions and sauté them with a bit of his sauce. He says it’s good but doesn’t eat much.
I give him two bags of peppermint patties and the peppermint patty brownies I made for him. He asks me to put them in the trunk of the car for him.
“I’ll see you in two weeks right?”
I call him later and ask if he’d like us to bring shrimp when we come for a visit.
“That would be good. Don’t get those little ones. Or the frozen kind. Get fresh ones. The good kind.” He proceeds to tell me the “wrong” kind that my sister picked up at the store. He tells me to never buy the frozen bags that come from Thailand or somewhere like that. I assure him we will make a trip to North Carolina to get them right off the boat.
He is sleeping hunched over in his recliner, and I don’t want to wake him. He has aged twenty years in a mere two weeks. His arms and legs have withered him to a stick figure. When he wakes, his wife calls me in to see him as she dresses him. I watch this scene and think he must have played this out as a small child with my mother. My heart is breaking. I hold my tears until I can walk out of the room. Later he shuffles with his cane in one hand and the assistance of his wife into the kitchen.
As we are cooking the shrimp, he decides he really wants cevichi. We know it takes a few days for the shrimp to cure , nor do they don’t have all of the ingredients. I give someone the money for the items and ask that they make it for him later. We put aside some shrimp for the ceviche.
He admires the beauty of the shrimp and talks about how good the ceviche is going to be. He says he’s too full to eat any shrimp but promises he will eat some later. I tell him I brought apple crisp cake.
“That’s my favorite.”
“I didn’t know that. It’s my favorite, too. And also Peggy’s.”
“I hope it’s as good as Mamas.”
“I don’t cook as well as her, but it is her recipe.”
“Ok. Then, it should be fine.” He proceeds to tell me that one of our sisters is a good cook and the other is a better one. I realize I’ve never cooked a full meal for my brother.
We sit outside and watch the clouds drift through the sky. We talk about food. We talk about God. I watch memory cloud his face from time to time as we talk about childhood and old times. Sometimes he lights up. I don’t know if it’s the sun or the memories that make his face shine. We never talk of the inevitable. Death. He tries to go there, but I always change the subject. Am I cheating him or myself by doing this?
So much is lost in two week intervals. He gets worse and worse each time. He asks if I’ll be back in two weeks. I know this is the last time I will see my brother alive, still I promise I will be back in two weeks. And I am, but for his funeral.
I honestly don’t know if it was my brother or myself who chose to revolve our last visits around food. Was it an undetermined comfort of times gone by or did we merely choose the only familiar way to cope?
Morsel by morsel, we chew our food all the while time eats us moment by moment.
Sprite’s Keeper: Food